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Columbia Missourian

MU professor Robert Kvam had a love of big band jazz

By Jordon Shultz
September 23, 2013 | 6:55 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Robert L. Kvam was born into a family of musicians. If he wasn't spending time with his family or teaching accounting, he was listening to big band jazz.

"Even though he was a successful accountant and professor, his true love was always music," said Kenneth Kvam, Dr. Kvam's son.

Robert L. Kvam of Columbia died Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, after a brief illness. He was 92.

He was born on Nov. 14, 1920, in Sioux City, Iowa, to Anton and Ora (Rockwell) Kvam.

In the 1920s, Dr. Kvam's father joined a group of World War I veterans from Sioux City, Iowa, to form the Monahan Post Band. Anton Kvam was the lead trumpeter for the band, which went on to win the 1927 American Legion marching band competition in Paris.

Dr. Kvam's mother, Ora Kvam, was a professional piano teacher and an organist at her church for nearly 80 years.

Dr. Kvam continued his family's musical tradition. He began playing the trumpet at age 5 and played in some of the first jazz bands at his high school. He later became the lead trumpeter in a professional dance band.

"In the 1930s, that was the equivalent of being the lead guitarist in a rock band," Kenneth Kvam said.

In 1943, Dr. Kvam enlisted in the Army Air Corps and later transferred to the Army Signal Corps. While stationed in Liege, Belgium, Dr. Kvam joined an American dance band as its lead trumpeter.

After the end of the war, Dr. Kvam received a bachelor's degree in accounting at the University of South Dakota in 1949 and a master's degree at the University of Colorado in 1952. Soon after, he transferred to Louisiana State University, where he earned an accounting certificate in 1955 and a doctorate in accounting in 1957. He also  taught accounting at Michigan State University.

Dr. Kvam married Betty Gustavson on Sept. 23, 1950, in Sioux City, Iowa.

While Dr. Kvam stayed busy balancing his passion for teaching and music, he always put his family first, his daughter Janet Holub said.

"He loved Betty very much, and he was extremely proud of his family," Holub said.

After years of relocating, Dr. Kvam and his wife settled in Columbia in 1960 so that he could take a position as a professor in accounting at MU. In Columbia, Dr. Kvam found his passion for teaching, Kenneth Kvam said, and earned the adoration of students and colleagues.

"Robert was one of the most kind and considerate individuals I've ever met," said Earl Wilson, a former student and colleague. "He was an excellent professor and was always very concerned about the success of his students."

During his career at MU, Dr. Kvam supervised many doctoral dissertations, led special seminars on accounting practices and created the honors program at the MU School of Accountancy. Because of his inspired teaching and caring personality, Dr. Kvam was named "Professor of the Semester" twice by MU accounting students and was voted a lifetime member of the Missouri State Society of Public Accountants.

"He said being a professor was the best job he could have ever had," Kenneth Kvam said. "It allowed him to do everything that he wanted to do."

After his retirement in 1985, Dr. Kvam stayed active in the community, playing tennis and golf until age 88. He was a committed member of St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, where he served several terms on the church council and helped provide financial guidance throughout his life. 

Dr. Kvam is survived by his three children, Janet Holub and her husband, Roy, of Woodstock, Ill., Nancy Kvam and longtime friend, Guy Neenan, of San Jose, Calif., and Kenneth Kvam and his wife, Wendy, of Columbia; three grandchildren, Katy of Woodstock, Ill., and Lauren and Eric, both of Columbia; and three sisters-in-law, Dorothy Kvam of Minneapolis, Minn., and Twila and Joan Gustavson, both of Columbia.

Dr. Kvam's wife, Betty (Gustavson) Kvam; a brother, John Kvam; and brothers-in-law, Oliver and Clifford Gustavson, died earlier.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, 914 West Blvd. S.

Memorial contributions can be made to the MU School of Music's jazz program, 121 Loeb Hall, Columbia, MO 65211.

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